TitleWhy Do Birds Sing? Deluxe
LabelsCraft Recordings

Track Listing

Disc 1

  • American Music
  • Out the Window
  • Look Like That
  • Do You Really Want to Hurt Me
  • Hey Nonny Nonny
  • Used To Be
  • Girl Trouble
  • He Likes Me
  • Life Is A Scream
  • Flamingo Baby
  • Lack Of Knowledge
  • More Money Tonight
  • I’m Free
  • Me and You*
  • Color Me Once (Early Version)*
  • 4 Seasons (Early Version)*
  • Breaking Up (Early Version)*
  • American Music (Alternate Mix)*
  • Dance, M.F., Dance!

Disc 2

  • Look Like That (Live At The Boat House, Norfolk, VA / 1991)
  • Out The Window (Live At The Boat House, Norfolk, VA / 1991)
  • Fat (Live At The Boat House, Norfolk, VA / 1991)
  • Blister in the Sun (Live At The Boat House, Norfolk, VA / 1991)
  • Prove My Love (Live At The Boat House, Norfolk, VA / 1991)
  • Country Death Song (Live At The Boat House, Norfolk, VA / 1991)
  • Old Mother Reagan (Live At The Boat House, Norfolk, VA / 1991)
  • Confessions (Live At The Boat House, Norfolk, VA / 1991)
  • Girl Trouble (Live At The Boat House, Norfolk, VA / 1991)
  • Add It Up (Live At The Boat House, Norfolk, VA / 1991)
  • Good Feeling (Live At The Boat House, Norfolk, VA / 1991)
  • More Money Tonight (Live At The Boat House, Norfolk, VA / 1991)

    Hype Sticker
  • Fifth Studio Album from the sharp-edged folk-punk trio
  • Featuring fan favorites “American Music,” “Out The Window” and “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me”
  • Plus a trove of previously unreleased outtakes and alternative takes
  • Including complete 1991 concert recording
  • With new linear notes from acclaimed songwriter and journalist, Jeff Slate

“James Honeyman-Scott saw us playing outside a Pretenders show and brought the rest of the band out to listen,” recalls the Violent Femmes lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter Gordon Gano of the oft-recounted, apocryphal moment during the Violent Femmes’ formative busking days. “It’s not a discovery story in that it didn’t lead to any gigs, and it didn’t lead to a record contract, but it was a confirmation for us. Because we were absolutely confident. We knew we were good. And we believed we would find an audience, somewhere.”

Violent Femmes – Gano, bassist Brian Ritchie and drummer Victor DeLorenzo – were born out of the early-1980s Milwaukee Wisconsin underground music scene. While it would be hard to imagine three more disparate characters coming together to form a group, it was in fact Gano’s love of the American roots music, combined with Ritchie and DeLorenzo’s jazz sensibilities, filtered through the post-punk DIY ethos the three young musicians shared, that gave Violent Femmes it’s unique sound.

“That sound, which is something that is, within a very few notes, recognizable as us, is something I’m really proud of,” says Gano. “Very few bands can claim that. And it came about, because we were ready and we wanted people to hear our songs, so we were playing on the street since we couldn’t get any place to give us a gig. That really affected the way we structured our sound – with large emphasis on acoustic instruments plate with great fervor – and that, combined with our disparate influences, is what made us who we became.”

Bassist Brian Ritchie adds that another key ingredient was that the members all believed that the sky was the limit where the band’s future was concerned.

“We had high aspirations,” adds Ritchie. “We loved the Beatles, but we also loved the Ramones and Richard Hell, who were our immediate predecessors. So we believed it was possible that we would be as big as the Beatles, even though we thought it was more likely we would just be a cool band like Television or Wire. “

Ritchie wasn’t wrong. That belief and laser-like focus helped make the band’s 1983 Self-Titled debut album one of the most successful early post-punk albums, and put Violent Femmes on the pop culture map in a big way.

“We knew we were making a masterpiece,” recalls Ritchie. “That’s not something that we decided in retrospect, or that we were told. We knew that we were doing something that nobody had done and doing it better than anyone else could do it. “

“‘Blister In the Sun,’ ‘Kiss Off,’ ‘Gone Daddy Gone,’ ‘Please Don Not Go’ were songs we had been doing when we were busking,” adds Gano. The embrace by college radio of these songs, Gano Says, was crucial to the band’s early success.

“We’d play a college town and then the next time thereā€™d be mor more people,” Gano recalls. “I remember on our first tour being somewhere and people were singing along to our songs. I thought, “We’ve never played here before. How can they know these songs” How can they be singing along”‘ Then, of course, I Realized that there was a college radio station that was playing our music.”

While at the time of its release, the band’s second album, Hallowed Ground, was considered by some to have been a victim of the infamous sophomore album jinx, it was actually part of cunning plan by the band.

“Brian thought our first album should be very focused, and then we’d follow that up with our folk, jazz, gospel and country songs,” says Gano. “Even though Hallowed Ground came across to people as a departure, we’d been playing those songs live before we recorded our first album. It was a definite plan to separate those two collections of songs, which was such a good thing, otherwise, it’s possible we wouldn’t be here. Otherwise, that first album might have been too all over the place, and wouldn’t have become this thing that grabs ahold of people.”

“That was probably a pretty smart commercial decision for the first one, and a probably pretty dumb commercial decision for the second one.” Ritchie demurs. “But at the same time, we were one of a handful of artists that launched what is now called Americana, and that kind of roots music movement, which is what represented on Hallowed Ground.”

The band was now on the relentless tour/album/tour treadmill that shattered so many great acts. With the band tired and overworked, tensions grew. A Third album found them struggling.

“Blind Leading The Naked was mainly an experiment,” recalls Ritchie. “Then the band split up for a few years. We did other things.”

After three years of pursuing side projects and recharging, the Violent Femmes reconvened in 1989 for 3.

“3 had more of the original Femmes sound, but it was a tentative effort, ” says Ritchie. “Usually, albums are bad because they’re overproduced, but that one was underproduced. 3 was representative of the band, but not as strong as it could have been.”

Crucially, however, 3 hinted at a way forward for the band.

“We decided that we wanted to go back to working as a trio to try to regain some of the energy that we had in the beginning,” recalls Ritchie.

The band began looking for a producer who shared not only their back-to-basics ethos, but also their unique collective sensibility.

“Michael Beinhorn was the most eccentric producer we met with,” recalls Ritchie of the process of finding a producer for what would become Why Do Birds Sing? “When he walked into the room, we knew he was just as strange as we were. More importantly, he understood our strength as a trio, and the intimacy of the sound, and our improvisational nature, and wanted to focus on Gordon’s lyrics.”

Material was not an issue.

“I’ve always had lots of song, and I’ve never written specifically for an album, or felt like I was under pressure to write for an album,” says Gano, who showed up at the early pre-production sessions with notebooks full of material.

“A lot of the songs on every one of our records, until very recently, came from Gordon’s original motherlode of songs that he wrote when he was a very bored teenager,” Ritchie adds, chuckling at the memory. “I knew him when he was still in high school. When he played me “Country Death Song,’ I said, ‘Wow, this is pretty good.’ Gordon said, ‘Yeah, I wrote it during study hall.'”

Gano, Ritchie and DeLorenzo hunkered down with Beinhorn, intent on crafting an album as good as their fabled debut, that played to their collective strengths, but super-charged for the new decade.

“Right away, Michael understood that it was the stripped-down approach of the Femmes that makes us different from other bands,” says Ritchie about those earliest pre-production sessions. “When we started working on the songs, Victor was just playing on a tape box, I had an acoustic bass, and Gordon was on acoustic Guitar. That was important, because it put the emphasis on the songs and on the lyrics, and Gordon could really focus on his vocals, and great performances.”

“We had played a lot of songs live, so there wasn’t anything arduous about it,” Gano adds, recalling the sessions. “There were often tensions in the group even if things were going reasonably well, but that’s being in a band.”

Of course, if one songs stands out from Why do Birds Sing?, It’s the femmes’ classic “American Music.”

“I vividly remember writing that song,” recalls Gano. “I had gotten an album out of either the library or from a thrift store – a double album or triple album – titled American Music. It was from the ’60s or ’70s and it had Johnny Cash songs and folk songs alongside the most experimental Avant Garde music, like things by John Cage. I remember thinking, ‘I really like American Music. That’s true. I really do.'”

Gano says the song came together quickly, and that keeping it direct and to the point was his goal from the outset.

“The line, ‘I did too many drugs, did you do too many drugs too”‘ That was just writing simply and sincerely, and also it felt fun and funny at the same time,” he remembers of the line that elicited a deadening cheer when the band later opened for the Grateful Dead. “And U did need a date to the prom, so that line would be true.

Some songs have various degrees of actually part of my life story, and others not at all, while some are different blends.”

For his part, Ritchie remembers the day Gano brought the song into the sessions for Why Do Birds Sing?, and how it developed from one thing into another, almost on the fly.

“the Femmes have mainly two beats that we work with, ” says Ritchie. “There’s the ‘Kiss Off’ or ‘Prove My Love’ beat – a punk rock 4/4 – and then there’s the one we use on a song like ‘ Jesus Walking On The Water,’ which is more country flavored. Gordon originally was playing ‘American Music’ like ‘Kiss Off,’ with the same feeling that we’d had on the first Album. Then Victor said, ‘Why don’t we try it as a shuffle?’ That was a completely different motif. It brought it int the world of pre-punk music, with Phil Spector or even Motown beat, and then the song came into focus. Then, towards the end, we decided to shift into a punk rock groove – speeding up like in ‘Heroin’ by velvet Underground – So there was a lot of thought put into the structure of the song, That’s what helps it rise above.”

It was, Ritchie adds, the Femmes at their best: Working to serve a song in their own inimitable way, with each bandmember completely committed to making the best recording possible.

“Even if Gordon had just played it on his guitar and sang it, ‘American Music’ communicates a lot,” Ritchie says. “But the arrangement has a lot of very interesting touches, and we thought it was a good production of a great song that encapsulated a lot of music history in one track, so that’s why it led off the album.”

“Brian has said, ‘We don’t have hits, we have classics,’ and it’s true,” adds Gano with a chuckle, of the song that went on to be on the band’s most beloved.

“Out The Window,” “Look Like That” and many of the other tracks on Why Do Birds Sing? definitely harkened back to the now-classic Femmes sound, but it was the band’s culture club cover that surprised diehard and casual fans alike.

“We’d done a lot of covers – usually for compilation albums- but Michael suggested doing ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ almost as a lark,” recalls Ritchie. “Gordon could not relate to the lyrics, so he re wrote them, and musically it was a matter of making it our own and making it interesting.”

“We had done T.Rex’s ‘Children Of The Revolution’ with Jerry Harrison so we took it as challenge,” Gano adds with a laugh. “I Thought, ‘Why don’t I keep the Key words from every line, but then change the rest.'”

And so “I have danced inside your eyes” became ‘I did dances inside my mind,” and “choose my color find a star” became “what’s your favorite color co your favorite car?” under Gano’s inspired hand.

“It was an experiment that turned out really well,” Ritchie recalls. “In fact, we bumped into Boy George once in a hotel bar and he told us, ‘That is the best cover of any of our songs anyone’s ever done.'”

“He loved it so much, he said that if we did a video, he’d do a cameo,” adds Gano. “So it was a real positive experience.”

Other songs, of course, did more than just harken back to the original Femmes’ sound.

“‘Girl Trouble’ had been our number one song when we started out,” Ritchie recalls. “In fact, our initial crew of fans in Milwaukee were completely baffled that it wasn’t on our first album!”

“Every album of ours had at least one song on it that I’d written when I was 15, and ‘Girl Trouble’ is one that we had done from the very beginning,” confesses Gano. “I think it might have been on our first demo tape. In fact, ‘Girl Trouble,’ ‘Life is A scream’ and ‘Flamingo Baby’ were all from the period of around the first album or two. Maybe even prior.”

Other songs had been in the Femmes’ live set for some time, so the process of turning them into tight, memorable recordings was relatively painless.

“A lot of the songs on Why Do Birds Sing? were already in our repertoire,” recalls Ritchie. “‘Lack Of Knowledge’ is one, and it’s fascinating song where Gordon had basically taken the lyrics almost verbatim from the bible. And yet, it has a very punk feel. We were aiming for a Ramones-type vibe.”

“‘More Money Tonight’ has a very subtle turn of phrase that Gordon uses, which says allot about Gordon,” Ritchie continues. “He sings, ‘You thought I was strange, just look at me now.’ That could be taken as, ‘When I was in high school you thought I was strange, but now look at me, I’m a big rock star.’ Or it could be, ‘You thought I was strange in High School? Look at how strange I am now.’ That is a great example of his skill as a lyricist.”

Remarkably, Why Do Birds Sing? also has a Prince connection.

“Susan Rogers, who Michael brought in, had recorded with Prince, and Prince was in an adjacent studio, so she sent a message to see if he had any songs for us,” recalls Gano. “He sent us a song called ‘Wonderful Ass.’ But we didn’t jump on it right away. I don’t know why, I’d like to hear it now. I bet we could find a way to do it.”

So the story fans had heard all these years was indeed true?

“Whenever I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, I don’t know if this is true, but this is what I’ve heard,’ with Violent Femmes, it’s almost always true,” Gano says with a chuckle. “Whatever somebody tells me they’ve heard, it’s usually exactly right. This is one of those cases.”

Though it may not have enjoyed the chart success the band had hoped for, upon it’s release, Why Do Birds Sing? put Violent Femmes back on the pop culture map in a big way. Ritchie puts it down to the simple, back-to-basics recipe.

“Why Do Birds Sing? had quality material, and it had the band playing the way the band really likes to play, in its natural habitat, well-produced,” he says.

But with alternative music exploding onto the mainstream in the early-1990s, the band were suddenly enjoying a level of success unlike at any time in its now decade-long existence.

“We’d always been popular because of word of mouth, and because we’ve always had a very devoted following,” says Ritchie, recalling the aftermath of the release of Why Do Birds Sing? “But this album did inject us into the mainstream, because the industry itself was developing, with Lollapalooza and MTV happening. And because of the videos, we finally had some pop culture currency. So, we graduated into that, and the gigs were getting bigger, and commercial radio stations – not just college radio – were starting to play our kind of music, because the people that worked at the college stations when we started out had moved into commercial radio when Why Do Birds Sing? came out. That changed everything.”

“We played the first Lollapalooza, and around that time that we got our first tour bus,” adds Gano.

“We were perceived as veterans at that point,” says Ritchie with a laugh. “But we were being programmed alongside newer bands, like Green Day and Nirvana, and we were holding our own. It was a good period for us. It culminated in Woodstock 1994. That would’ve been the crest of the wave.”

In The end, Why Do Birds Sing? Is an album Gano and Ritchie are enormously proud of, not just because of its enormous success, but because it has stood the test of time, just the way they had always intended their music to.

“We still do a lot of songs from this album live, which is a sign of a lasting album,” Ritchie says, with a broad smile.. “And a lot of young people relate to Gordon’s lyrics. That’s the reason we still have relevance, and why people continue to discover us. That’s why it’s still as exciting as it was when we started.”

“I don’t go back and listen to our music, but when I have had occasion to hear this album, for whatever reason, I’m almost pleasantly surprised,” Gano adds, wrapping things up. “In fact, when I heard it recently, at a distance, my first feeling was, ‘Oh I like this.’ And then it turned out to be us. That really felt great.”
Jeff Slate, NYC, April 2021

Produced By:
Michael Beinhorn, Victor DeLorenzo, Gordon Gano & Brian Ritchie

Recorded By:
Susan Rogers

Mixed By:
E.T. Thorngren
David Vartanian

Assisted By:
Mike Kloster, Tom Fritze, Lori Fumar

Mastered By:
Howie Weinberg

American Music
Gordon Gano: Vocal, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar Solo
Brian Ritchie: Acoustic Bass Guitar, Didgeridoo, Electric Guitar, Vocal
Victor Delorenzo: BRushed Snare Dum, Sleigh Bells, Tympani, Vocal, Tambourine
Michael Beinhorn: Hammond Organ
Tom Mandell: Keyboards
Chorus & Claps: Carmaig, Michael, Mike, Alex & Band
Mixed By Eric “E.T.” Thorngren

Out The Window
Gordon Gano: Vocal Acoustic Guitar
Brian Ritchie: Acoustic Bass Guitar, Vocal
Victor DeLorenzo: Brushed Snare Drum, Wood, Cowbell, Arabic Tabla, Vocal
Mixed By David Vartanian

Look Like That
Gordon Gano: Vocal, Acoustic Guitar
BRian Ritchie: Acoustic Bass Guitar, Vocal, Glockenspiel, Electric Guitar
Victor DeLorenzo: Brushed Snare Drum, Tambourine, Vocal
Mixed By David Vartanian

Do You Really Want To Hurt Me
Gordon Gano: Vocal, Acoustic Guitar
Brian Ritchie: Bouzouki, Acoustic Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar
Victor Delorenzo: Drum Set, Tambourine, Tranceaphone, vocal
Michael Beinhorn: Piano, Mellotron
Mixed By Eric “E.T.” Thorngren

Hey Nonny Nonny
Gordon Gano: Vocal, Acoustic & Electric Guitar
Brian Ritchie: Acoustic Bass Guitar, Vocal
Victor DeLorenzo: Brushed Snare drum, Tambourine, Shakers, Vocal
Mixed By David Vartanian

Used To Be
Gordon Gano: Vocal, Acoustic & Electric Guitar
Brian Ritchie: Acoustic Bass Guitar
Victor DeLorenzo: Snare Drum, Traneaphone, Tambourine, Cymbal
Michael Beinhorn: Harmonium, Mellotron, String Arrangment
Strings: Suzie Katayama, Ilene Novog, Larry Corbett, Sid Page
Mixed By Eric “E.T.” Thorngren

Girl Trouble
Gordon Gano:Vocal, Acoustic Guitar
Brian Ritchie: Acoustic Bass Guitar, Vocal
Victor DeLorenzo: Brushed Snare Drum, Tranceaphone, Cymbal, Vocal
Mixed By David Vartanian

He Likes Me
Gordon Gano: Vocal, Acoustic Guitar
Brian Ritchie: Acoustic Bass Guitar, Vocal
Victor DeLorenzo: Brushed Snare Drum, Vocal
Mixed By David Vartanian

Life Is A Scream
Gordon Gano: Vocal, Electric Guitar
Brian Ritchie: Vocal, 8-String Slide Wah Wah Bass
Victor DeLorenzo: Drum Set
Mixed By David Vartanian

Flamingo Baby
Gordon Gano: Vocal, Acoustic Guitar, Slide Solo
Brian Ritchie: Acoustic Bass Guitar, Ukelele
Victor DeLorenzo: Conga Drum
Mixed By David Vartanian

Lack Of Knowledge
Gordon Gano: Cocal, Acoustic Guitar
Brian Ritchie: Acoustic & Electric Bass Guitar, Vocal
Victor DeLorenzo: Brushed Snare Drum, Tom-Tom, Cymbal, Tambourine, Fire Extinguisher, Vocal
Mixed By David Vartanian

More Money Tonight
Gordon Gano: Vocal, Guitar
Brian Ritchie: Electric Bass Guitar, Vocal
Victor DeLorenzo: Drum Set, Vocal
Mixed By David Vartanian

I’m Free
Gordon Gano: Vocal, Acoustic Guitar
Brian Ritchie: Acoustic Bass Guitar, Banjo, Electric Guitar, Jaw Harp
Victor DeLorenzo:Brushed Snare Drum, Tranceaphone, Vocal, Drum set
Michael Beinhorn: Piano
Mixed By David Vartanian

Original Album Credits

Sunset Sound, Hollywood, CA
Larrabee Sound, Los Angeles, CA
Hit Factory, NY
D.V.’s Perversion Room Mach II, Milwaukee, WI
American Recording, Woodland Hills, CA
One On One, North Hollywood, CA
Materdisk, NY

Project Coordinator: Catharina Wilhelmina Masters
Guitar Tech: Alex Alvarez
Drum Service: Dr. Ross Garfield, The Drum Doctor
Design & Photography: Hanson Graphic
Busking Photo: Mary Jones, The Milwaukee Journal
Bird Photo: Bud “The Bird Man”

A. Baldoni Music, Sterling Ball/Ernie Ball, Cascio Music, Trace Elliot, Bill Faust/Faust Music, Joes’, Milwaukee, Dick Boak/Martin, Neville Kitchen/Maton, Jim Foote/Music Works, Niceman, Sonor, Uncle Bob’s Music, YA German Communications Oompa

Special Thanks:
Ivo Baldoni, Barry & Mary Baumann, Jim Bartz, Rick Bates, Karin Berg, Michael Blair, Jerome Brisch, Darren Brown, Warren Bruleigh, Thor Christensen, Peter Critchley, Carmaig De Forest, Joseph DeLorenzo, Jim Eannelli, Charles Gaienie, Mark Geiger, Jerry Harrison, John Henderson, Vivian Less, Caleb Lentzner, Scott Leonard, Willie MacInnes, Diane Petashnick, Michael Ramos, Frank Riley, Alan Skiena, Speedy, Theatre X Of Milwaukke, Trevor Veitch, Ken West, Tim Whitten, Peter Wozniak.

Lack Of Knowledge – Hosea 4:6

Reissue Credits

Produced for release by Bill Inglot & Mason Williams
Mastering: Dan Hersch & Bill Inglot at D2 MAstering
Editorial: Ryan Jebavy
Design: Florian Mihr
Additional Photagraphy: Melodie Gimple, WMG Archive
Project Assistance: Chris Clough, Mike Johnson, Andy Fischer, Dave Shultz, Brian Kehew
Special Thanks: Amy Decker, Jeff Castelaz

Disc 1:
Tracks 1-13
Orginally Released as Slash 26476 (1991)

  1. Me And You
  2. Color Me Once (Early Version)
  3. 4 Seasons (Early Version)
  4. Breaking Up (Early Version)
  5. American Music (Alternate Mix)
    Tracks 14-18 Mixed by Michael Beinhorn
    Previously Unreleased
  6. Dance, Motherfucker, Dance!
    Gordon Gano: Vocal, Guitar
    Brian Ritchie: Vocal, Bass
    Victor DeLorenzo: Vocal, Drums
    Caleb Alexander: Tenor Sax
    Sigmund Snopek III: Trombone, Piano
    Peter Balestrieri: Baritone Sax
    Produced By Violent Femmes
    Mixed By Unknown
    Recorded at Stebbing Studio, Aukland, NZ (February 1986)
    Originally Released as A B-Side on Slash 31 and Slash 10518 (1991)

Disc 2: Live at The Boathouse, Norfolk, VA (Juy 21, 1991)

  1. Look Like That
  2. Out The Window
  3. Fat
  4. Blister In The Sun
  5. Prove My Love
  6. Country Death Song
  7. Old Mother Regan
  8. Confessions
  9. Girl Trouble
  10. Add It Up
  11. Kiss Off
  12. Good Feeling
  13. More Money Tonight

Concert Performance originally released on Rhino DVD 970428
Permanent Record: Live & Otherwise (2005)

All Songs written by Gordon Gano (C) 1991 Gorno Music ASCAP Except “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” written by O’Dowd/Craig/Hay/Moss (C) 1982 Virgin Music Inc. ASCAP with adapted lyrics by Gordon Gan. “Hey Nonny Nonny” Music and Additional lyrics by Gordon Gano, Text: 16th Century Poem Colin By The Shepard Tonie, “Color Me Once” by Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie, and “Dance Motherfucker Dance!” by Voot Warnings, Glen Rehse and John Frankovic. Lyrics reprinted by permission, All Rights Reserved.

(P) & (C) 2021 Craft Recordings. Manufactured for and distributed by Concord, 10 Lea Avenue, Suite 300, Nashville, TN 37210.
All Rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.